How a Battle Over a Korean-Owned Kwik Stop Divided, Then United, South Dallas

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Muhammad's mosque, an austere, sandy building with taupe trim, is a short block away from the Kwik Stop. On December 21, he rounded up South Dallas' black leaders: the Reverend Marion Barnett and the Wright brothers from the Justice Seekers, because they sought justice. He asked them to lead the protests. He got Peter Johnson from the Peter Johnson Foundation for Nonviolence. Johnson once drove Safeway (Safeway!) out of Texas for racism. Corner stores? Duck soup. Muhammad reached out to Wallace at the NAACP, too, because it's the NAACP, and he enlisted Curtis Wilbert from the Texas Alliance for the Formerly Incarcerated, sweetly referred to as TAFFI.

Together, they formed the United South Dallas Coalition. They called a press conference for four days later, right in front of Pak's store. Cameramen set up on the lawn. Someone even schlepped a podium.

Muhammad was a fringe leader, commanding the attention of little more than a sliver of South Dallas. He was Muslim in an area where it wasn't cool to be Muslim. That's why he'd outsourced the protest to all these Christians, who held more sway in the community. But when the cameras rolled, they all looked to him.

Muhammad took the podium, his broad shoulders square, his back uncomfortably straight. He spoke, flanked by bow tied members of the Fruit of Islam, the Nation of Islam's all-male security force. The leaders were swept to the side, yet still they stood, transfixed by Muhammad's plodding, righteous cadence, as the student minister relived his own run-in with Pak.

"It was said to me by one of my brothers that it was unfortunate that it happened to me," he said. "But I said, 'No, it was a fortunate thing that it happened to me.'"

Muhammad told a story from a couple weeks earlier, when he walked in to get some gas and, he said, was met instead with a vicious onslaught of racial slurs. To make it worse, Muhammad said, the owner was ripping people off on gas, charging $3.29 a gallon. Muhammad decided to only put $5 in the tank but was told the store had a $10 minimum for credit card transactions.

"Because it simply says that if a black man can walk into the store with a suit and a tie on," Muhammad stopped short for effect. "I have a college degree. I came with money to spend — and I'm disrespected like this, it means there's so much blatant disrespect he felt comfortable disrespecting us in our own community.

"We're here to say that we want an end to the price gouging in our community," he continued. "We're saying to our own people that we need to pool our resources and then begin to open up businesses in our own community and shut their businesses down." He was echoing the words of the Nation of Islam's supreme minister, Louis Farrakhan, who preached a "Do For Self" tenet, teaching that if blacks owned their own businesses and hired their own kind, their lives and communities would improve.

"This is about economic warfare. And they have declared war on our community," Muhammad announced, referring to Korean immigrants. "Now it's time to stand up and take back that power by not spending our money in stores where people disrespect us."

His fellow leaders applauded, raising their fists. Councilwoman Carolyn Davis wasn't technically a part of the coalition, but even she lent influence to the cause, calling for a boycott of her constituent's small business. "I am hoping, I am hoping, I am hoping today that nobody goes into this store," she said, looking into the cameras. "I stand firm with the Nation. I stand firm with Brother Muhammad and his congregation."

Davis knew what was obvious to anyone watching: Muhammad was clearly the catalyst. He'd assigned the black leaders their roles. He'd made and supplied the signs. The coalition said it was a group endeavor. But to an outsider like Davis, it was clear. This was a Nation of Islam operation.

Still, Muhammad insisted that his was a supporting role. "I didn't actually, officially, myself call the protest," he said one day on the picket line, his booming voice drowning out a reporter's question. "But I support the protest, because there are other organizations that are a part of the protest."

Even within the Nation of Islam — which reached its peak during the Civil Rights era by preaching black empowerment and black supremacy — Muhammad is a throwback. He's smart, charismatic, ambitious, and he's got preacher-speak down pat, which is why he rose through the ranks of the NOI so quickly. By 1995, when Muhammad was only 28, he was a fully ordained minister.

In June of that year, though, four boys between 12 and 16 broke into an antique store at Westcliff Mall in South Dallas. They tried to make way with the register and a few hundred bucks. They didn't stand a chance. The NOI stresses physical fitness, and it just happened that four Nation of Islam members were working security at the mall that day. Muhammad was with them. They chased down the would-be thieves and, the Associated Press reported, ushered the kids into a meeting room in the mall, where about 50 more Nation of Islam members were waiting. The boys, three brothers and a friend, were then "forced through a gauntlet." The entire congregation took turns whipping the boys with belts and bamboo canes.

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Greg Howard